Dr. Evans was appointed Professor and Director of the Institute for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality in 2019. She holds a Ph.D. in Afro-American Studies, with a concentration in History and Politics and a Graduate Certificate in Advanced Feminist Studies, from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Evans has accrued much experience as faculty and administration at several institutions. After eight years as a faculty member in Women’s Studies and African American Studies (and one year as Director of AAS) at the University of Florida, in 2011, Dr. Evans joined the Department of African American Studies, Africana Women’s Studies, and History at Clark Atlanta University, where she served as Department Chair from 2011-2019.
Professor Evans’ areas of research specialization include Black women’s intellectual history, mental health and wellness; social justice and empowerment education; African American autobiography and memoir; research methods in African American history and digital humanities; community engagement, service learning, and community-based research; and sexual violence prevention and survivor advocacy. Her current research explores Black women’s historical wellness, specifically investigating themes of inner peace, self-worth and self-care practice, stress management methods, and healing traditions in elder memoirs.
I have had many educational mentors at different points in my life; all helped me grow in significant ways. Several guided me directly or indirectly, from my McNair mentor (Cherryl Arnold) and dissertation advisor (John H. Bracey, Jr.), to educators and writers who have inspired my work toward peace (Sonia Sanchez) and love (Sheila Flemming-Hunter). My most important mentor was Pam Copley, my 8th grade dance teacher. She taught me how to face challenges front-and-center, to own my body through self-expression, and how to “figure it out” when the pressure was on and things got difficult or confusing. Each of these mentors helped me make the significant connection between mental, spiritual, and physical development that prepared me (more or less) to navigate the stress of academe.
My research on Black women’s intellectual history has evolved into a study of mental health and wellness. I have published several articles and co-edited two volumes on the topic. This year I started editing a book series for SUNY Press, titled “Black Women’s Wellness.” The manuscript I have worked on over the past six years focuses on Black women’s historical wellness and inner peace. Specifically, I look at self-care strategies in elder memoirs as guides for how to deal with traumatic stress. There are several practices that I cover in the book (music, prayer, and exercise), but hone in on two methods of historical healing: yoga and meditation. Elders, like Sadie and Bessie Delany (who lived to be 109 and 104 years old) practiced yoga for decades and have much to teach us about sustainable struggle to deal with daily and continual stress. One compelling example I recently brought to light in this context was Rosa Parks and her thirty-year yoga practice. We know Parks from her activist work, but rarely connect her life-long activism with the fact that she lived to age 92. The Association of Black Women Historians recently featured my Rosa Parks yoga story as a blog post HERE.
My research and teaching on Black women’s historical wellness is a problem-solving project to address mental health stressors, specifically issues that emerge for survivors of sexual violence. Movements like #MeToo and #MuteRKelly reflect the need to address the public health issue of sexual violence by including Black women’s voices at the core of defining and addressing the problem. The Rosa Parks story is an example of wellness history that can be useful when exploring mental health challenges and providing culturally competent toolkits to address health disparities, particularly as they relate to rape and sexual harassment—which Mrs. Parks addressed directly in her life work. Recently, in June 2019, actress Taraji P. Henson delivered emotional testimony to the United States Congress about the vital need for mental health services in African American communities. Providing integrated community-based mental health services is a global issue as well. In 2012, the World Health Organization published the Mental Health Action Plan. One of the four objectives was, “To implement strategies for promotion and prevention in mental health [and] encourage the use of evidence-based traditional practices for promotion and prevention in mental health (such as yoga and meditation).” Similarly, the United Nations founded the International Day of Peace (21 September) with the idea of impacting mental health on the personal, local, and global level. There was an explicit recognition of violence against women and advocating meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practice to support survivors. As poet Sonia Sanchez wrote, “peace is a human right.” I write about Black women’s inner peace and survivor self-care as radical practices. My focus on historical connections to current crises place both problem and solution in generational context.
I love introducing students to new books (or introducing old books, new to them). I enjoy passing on resources and publications that raised my consciousness, changed my perceptions of life, and to share books that helped me (to quote Tina Turner) “rearrange my place in the universe.” There is a vast library of publications I recently collected to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of Women’s Studies and African American Studies as academic disciplines. Sharing this resource with students in class, in preparation for exams, and as a guide for their research helps them see the vast amount of information available and also clarifies how they can make a contribution to extant scholarship. Literature reviews also help to show how these fields have developed over time. (See The Black Women’s Studies Booklist.). I also enjoy teaching about various source types beyond books. I use an acronym to outline the rich resources available for research: “Scholars without sources are REAL BAD NEWS.” REAL BAD NEWS identifies sources from government reports, archives, newspapers, and recorded interviews, to book reviews and laws/legal journals, in addition to books. In a time when students are inundated and often overwhelmed with information, teaching how to examine and evaluate different source types seems a vital skill set to pass on. I also love the feeling when students realize how much valuable knowledge the already possess and how their life experiences can, and should, fuel new areas of inquiry.
My favorite item is a painting of Mary McLeod Bethune that my husband Curtis Byrd commissioned for my 40th birthday (ten years ago). Bethune is one of the many figures that has guided my work from the beginning of my academic career. She looks over my office and is a guiding force, along with Anna Julia Cooper, for my research and teaching, administrative service, and community building.